Warrnambool or bust

When the winter school holidays come to Ballarat, you have the choice to embrace the cold or to escape. We did a bit of both, doing the obligatory Sovereign Hill trek to see the winter night lights and to sample mulled wine. It was busier than last year, with lots of day trippers and weekending visitors from out of town.

 
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Friends and neighbours took the escape option and headed up north to Port Douglas, Rome and Paris (they are lovely people, and totally deserved their holidays- I lived vicariously through their Instagram pics #jealousnotjealous). Our escape took us south west to…Warrnambool.
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Okay, not the most tropical option, but we had sun, the sea, sand, ice cream, no rain and the temperatures were in DOUBLE FIGURES. For mere mortals accustomed to days with the top temperature of 8 or 9 degrees, it felt positively balmy.

We stayed in a little cottage not far from the Lake Pertobe precinct which we found through AirBnB, which suited us perfectly.
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Warrnambool has a kids festival in the first week of the winter holidays which we missed out on visiting- but we didn’t have any problems filling in our time.

Tower Hill just outside of Koroit was a great place to stretch the legs, check out the views of the surrounding countryside and meet some local wildlife.
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We met a few emus and wallabies, and even spotted a koala up a tree!

Nearby was the little town of Korout whereI had holidayed with my family there over 30 years ago. It hadn’t really changed much since then.
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The countryside around Koroit and Warrnambool feels so familiar, and its not just from holidays or school excursions. It’s very reminiscent of Ireland and I can understand why so many Irish settled and stayed in the area. Names like Noonan and Bourke abound in Koroit, and several of Mr BGs ancestors the Murnanes hailed from Warrnambool way.

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum, which was the maritime equivalent of Sovereign Hill. It was a great way to explore the history of the shiwreck coast, and even nicer when the sun came out. The kids were given a checklist of things to look for which they loved to do. There were also school holiday  activities which involved them making vanilla slices to take home 🙂

 
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We visited Logan’s Beach a few times in an effort to catch a site of whales in the bay. The second time we visited we were lucky to catch a glimpse of some black dots in the ocean which weren’t surfers :). There is a Facebook page for people to check if there are any whales in the nursery.
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The highlight for me was the flying fox at the adventure playground. It was something I wanted to introduce the kids to, having been on it years ago. They loved zooming down the line, hooting as they sped along, though pulling it back up wasn’t so fun. I managed to have a go on the last day we were there and loved the sensation of flying through the air, carefree and without a worry in the world.

I think we’ll be back ☺

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My artistic inspiration

Art washes away from the soul the dust of every day life

Pablo Picasso

I had been travelling for 36 hours when I arrived in London on May Day 1999. It was my first trip overseas as an adult with my boyfriend, now the amazing Mr BG, and my head was swimming with new sensations- English accents! Red double-decker buses! The Battersea power station!

We arrived early and was at our BnB at 8am. After a shower and a change of clothes, we headed on the bus to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. I remember the crush of the crowds out enjoying the warm spring day, the feel of my boyfriend’s hand around mine, as we made our way across the iconic square to one of the most amazing art galleries in the world, made all the more amazing because it is FREE.

We go through a door on the right and step into a room of Degas, and then the next room, I see something which takes my breath away. My head spins and buzzes with adrenalin (mainly because I am running on empty and haven’t slept for ages), and all I can do is stand there with my mouth agape.

Sunflowers was the first piece of artwork which blew me away, and which has stayed with me for the last 15 years. That heady rush I experienced when I first saw it is something I have been chasing every time I go into an art gallery.

Art is my soul food.

Magneto-grrl

Rachel recently described her collection of Teddy Bears in a recent blog post. While I do confess to the odd teddy bear and stuffed toy, I have another collection, which is proudly on display in our kitchen, and is a joint labour of love between myself and MrBG.

Behold our collection of fridge magnets.

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We have them in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are quite useful, with numbers for our dentist, doctor, plumber and handyman/builder. We have some which are large enough for us to insert photos, and some which we have created from Instagram photos.

For the most part though, they are mementoes from places visited.

I remember buying my first fridge magnet in Bath on 1999 on our first overseas holidays. It was five pounds and in a period of a very bad exchange rate ($3 to the pound), not at all cheap.

Since then they have blossomed (bred?), and range from the very functional to the simply decorative. They have taken over the fridge to the extent we have a noticeboard where we place things of note rather than on the fridge.

We have subsets of collections, namely the fridge magnets which also double as bottle openers, a range of Guinness paraphernalia, famous works of art, and photos.

It got out of control admittedly a couple of years ago, when Mr BG decided to take advantage of a strong Australian dollar and a good deal on bulk buys of fridge magnets in Paris. We have a glut of Parisian magnets that I would quite frankly, love to cull. The purchase of magnets on our last trip to the US was monitored as a result, due to the lack of space on the display area. Now I know how museums feel :).

 

Bookgrrl’s survival travel tips in San Francisco and New York

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Tip

It’s a restroom, not a toilet

Cities have a downtown area, or civic centre, not a CBD.

Be prepared to add milk to your coffee or to leave it for a while before you drink it- the coffee is served HOT.

Beware of HUGE portion sizes and order small.

Try not to check your phone all the time, especially when in the subway or emerging from one- it’s been known to be whipped out of your hands.

Ulmon have a great app City map pro which you can download the city in which you are travelling, and you can search it while you are offline or not connected to wifi. Thank you so much to Fiona for showing this to me.

Have no sense of direction? Use a compass, or if it’s a sunny day, check shadows on the sidewalk. This is especially good if you are travelling by subway and you emerge with absolutely no idea which way to walk. If you have an idea of the intersecting streets, you may find you are walking only a block before you realise your mistake and have to turn back.

Wifi abounds in most cultural institutions such as museums and libraries and in some cities like San Francisco, in their downtown area have it available for free. Good to check for locations of shops- I found that there was a Converse store in downtown San Francisco not far from where we were that day.

Thank you America

One last walk down 5th Avenue on a rainy day, I am finally getting a sense of where I am.

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I don’t want to leave, yet I am missing my kids and I cannot wait to feel their arms around me. It is with these mixed feelings that we depart for JFK.
I never thought I would ever get a chance to visit New York, or San Francisco. It was all I ever hoped for and more-now I know what it is like to descend into the muggy subway on a warm day, to see the Golden Gate Bridge shrouded in fog and to see the manhattan skyline at dusk. I’ve eaten bagels, pretzels, tasted a knish, and sipped cocktails.
But what made the trip even more special was the people. I had the chance to meet so many friendly and hospitable people during our travels.

Our air bnb hosts were lovely in San Francisco and Brooklyn.

Thank you to our Brooklyn neighbours Jenelle and Bill for their hospitality and for letting us order something to be sent to Bill’s place of work. Your advice on getting a car ordered to take us to the airport was spot on!

I had a great time at the Popfests and meeting the nicest people, such as Becky, Lauren, Ashley, Olive and the indiepop kids from DC. We also got to meet Phil, a musician who was also a librarian who worked at the New York Public Library, which was really cool, and Gary, who led us through Manhattan on an amazing night to remember.

It was also an opportunity to spend time with the Bart and Friends extended family, which included the Zebras and their friends and family, which was wonderful. Much bonding occurred over drinks and common interests were found. Sharing an apartment with Scott, the Bart and Friends singer and his partner Fiona was also a highlight-getting to know them after knowing them for so long was great.

But it was also the anonymous people who made the trip special-the park ranger on Liberty Island speaking passionately about the benefits of immigration, friendly sales assistants wishing us well on our trip, ground staff at JFK ensuring we had good seats on our flight back.

So thank you America. It was a blast.

Manhattan Transfer

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How could you ever get tired of a sight such as this? With the days in New York lessening, these are some of the moments I tried to capture.

Statue of Liberty
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With the New York Pass, we took a ferry to Liberty Island. It’s an impressive monument, popular with domestic and international tourists alike.

911 Memorial
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In the middle of downtown, with a massive building site next to this, people are silent. The trees rustle as the public pay their respects.
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Shopping for New Yorkers tends to involve buying online, and getting stuff delivered. However you do learn a lot about a country through their stores.
Macy’s is insane. Like Myers on steroids, with a patriotic twist.
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Lego

Where you can make your own mini figs, a wall of Lego bricks, and a chance to find those really obscure Lego sets that your local toy store no longer stocks.

FAO Schwarz
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I am sure this exists for guilty parents and for parents who have never quite grown up. This was the most amazing and comprehensive toy store I have seen since Hedleys in London. You can build your own bear, build your own muppet and yes, play on the piano immortalised by Tom Hanks in Big. There were a couple of kids playing on it when we were there, but were soon pushed off by a man in his thirties wanting to play chopsticks.

Central Park
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Rather than take the subway sometimes we cut across Central Park. The windiness of the paths make me lose direction, and I am constantly arguing with Mr BG where we are exactly. He’s usually right.

The New York Accent

Hearing it is another reminder that I am here. Whether it is from a sales assistant at Macy’s, an information desk attendant at MOMA, or in a lady asking for directions in the subway, it is music to my ears.

New York public library

The Rose Reading Room is still closed, but it is still a cool place to wander around. I manage to sit down at a table for a few moments and dream. I check out the children’s section and happen upon story time.

2014-06-05 10.27.33I go for a wander into the Genealogy Room and feel as if nothing has changed in the library for years.

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You’re the tops Manhattan.

Bookgrrl, MOMA and the Guggenheim

If visiting the New York Public Library was No 1 on my list of places to go, the Museum of Modern Art was No 2.

The Met is a fantastic and comprehensive collection of art and I was overwhelmed by it. But as MOMA is more contained and has a clear collection directive, which makes for a day of Wows and tears. Art can make me cry, in a good way!

The space itself is expansive and the rooms on most of the floors flow in the same direction, allowing for a feeling of familiarity to develop with the layout. It wasn’t crowded either, which was no doubt due  to the fact it wasn’t school holidays or vacation time.

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We started from the top and worked our way down, looking at the collection in a chronological fashion.

Highlights for me

To stand in front of Van Gogh’s Starry Night and soak it up all by myself (and the security guard who stood by it). I also wished at that moment for Master BG to be here, as Vincent is his favourite artist. There were some tears at this point.

To see Les Demoiselles D’Avignon by Picasso

To walk into rooms of Mondrian, Matisse and Picasso and not to squeal out in delight

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To stumble upon yet another art class to school students this time in front of a Matisse and to hear the teacher speak about his use of colour. It’s at moments like this I would wonder about moving to New York if I had a spare $10million or so.

2014-06-02 13.42.01And this was just the first floor.

Heading down to the next floor you are confronted by Roy Lichtenstein’s Drowning Girl, then we turned around the corner to see Warhol. In fact a lot of Warhols!

2014-06-02 14.00.30On the following floor, there was a design exhibition on Women in Design. It highlighted women’s contribution to design from the Art Nouveau period through to the present day.

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While some of the designs were poster art and photography, a lot of it centred around the home. Modern kitchen designed for small spaces was included as well as crockery and furniture.
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Needless to say we were blown away with the experience, and yet there was more to do. We were meeting friends for drinks in a couple of hours and we had time to spare. Could we…?

A mad dash uptown was undertaken to the Guggenheim. The building is itself an amazing work of art, in a town of amazing buildings. We arrived with less than an hour to closing and were lucky to get $3 off the admission price.

What was in our favour was no queues, and due to the lateness of the day, not a lot of people in the museum.
While it is an amazing building, there are a lot of challenges to it being used as a gallery space- it is circular and space is limited.

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There is a room devoted to post-Impressionist art, but other galleries were closed for installations of new exhibitions due to be launched in the summer months.
The major exhibition was Italian Futurism, which was quite interesting, not least due to its latter incarnation being co-opted by the Fascists in the 1930s. The intersection of art used for political ends was quite interesting to explore. Mr BG also commented on its influence on Peter Savile, the graphic designer involved with Joy Division and New Order.
Two amazing museums in one day!